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New report on online child sexual abuse identifies most at-risk children

22 January 2018 | Tags: social media, IICSA, Children, Online media

Vulnerable teenagers are more likely to be victims of online sexual abuse and exploitation, and many police feel unprepared to investigate such cases, according to a report by the National Centre for Social Research for the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse.

Children who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer or transgender (LGBQT), or have been previously abused, are particularly at risk, as well as those who are frequent chat room users, or engage in more risky online and real-life behaviours.

The research suggests that perpetrators of online-facilitated child sexual abuse are likely to spend time in chat rooms and on social media networks. Such perpetrators, often young, white men with no previous convictions, rely on making the victim feel important, cared-for and trusted to manipulate their victims; positive emotions which vulnerable teenagers may perceive to be lacking in their real-life interactions. The report highlights that many online perpetrators do not go on to abuse children offline.

The report, Behaviour and Characteristics of Perpetrators of Online-facilitated Child Sexual Abuse and Exploitation, presents findings from a rapid evidence assessment designed to give a comprehensive picture of what is known in this area. This includes both peer-reviewed research papers and reports produced by governmental and non-governmental bodies.


Cooperative working vital but police officers feel unprepared to investigate

Several research papers included in the assessment identified examples of successful multi-agency partnerships – between the police, technology companies, schools and probation officers, for example - and the importance of such cooperative working both nationally and transnationally in combatting online-facilitated child sexual abuse. This is particularly important given the multiple needs of those who are most at risk from abuse and exploitation.

The report also found that police officers in the UK were aware of the issues around online child sexual exploitation, and most had been involved with a case in this area. However, many reported that the training they received was insufficient and felt unprepared investigating such cases.

Jeffrey DeMarco, Research Director at the National Centre for Social Research and lead author of the report, said:

“Today’s report highlights what we already know about perpetrators and victims of online-facilitated child sexual abuse, but more importantly it shows where we are falling short and potentially putting children and young people at risk. What really stands out is that, by creating an open dialogue with their child, parents can help to prevent them turning to strangers online for reassurance.

As new technology and platforms become the norm, everyone involved with safeguarding children, from parents to police to internet service providers, needs to ensure their knowledge is up-to-date and relevant to the contemporary online landscape.”


Read the full report here.